Lights out in London

As the summer wears on, it seems like we’ve put all the craziness of earlier this year behind us. Critics are no longer proposing OMA-designed windmills for Marina del Rey. Good thing. It’s time to look carefully at the lessons of the Infrastructural City and think about its conclusions since, well, they aren’t pretty.

Make no mistake, there is no happy ending in the Infrastructural City, no easy recipe for fixing our infrastructural ills. This has puzzled a generation of critics, who’ve seen the book as Marxist, or overly cynical* or confusing. The problem for them is that they grew up in the last decade, in an era where there was always a technological innovation around the corner. But that innovation is about to run aground in a vicious tangle of Actor-Network-Theory.

To be clear, this isn’t a golden opportunity for designers. It’s a crisis that we haven’t seen since the 1980s and its not just in the Los Angeles. The same forces of NIMBYist political stalemate and neoliberalist deregulation that are undoing the Southwest can be found worldwide. How about daily sub-Saharan-Africa-style power shortages in the UK within an decade or two? The Economist has more here.

Meanwhile, the New York Times marks the sixth anniversary of the 2003 New York City blackout with a photo essay. Maybe we’ll have a chance to see more of this in our new bad future.

*Which doesn’t make sense to me. I hold Peter Sloterdijk’s opinion of cynicism, which is knowing that what you are doing is wrong but doing it anyway. Thus, most architecture and most architecture criticism is cynical. Most green projects are cynical. Whole Foods is cynical. How is raising the alarm cynical?

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On the Death of the Suburbs

Previously I’ve questioned the continuing attacks on the suburbs from urban boosters and academics. Most of that sort of writing is self-justifying nonsense, but there is a way in which suburbs—at least some suburbs—could falter, and I watch it in action most days that I go into the city. The transportation links between the city and its periphery could fail. 

I haven’t run any numbers, but I find that almost every night the trains to Jersey have another delay of at least a half hour. Much of the time the morning trains do as well. Usually these are systemic delays that affect not only my train, but half, if not all, of the trains heading in and out of the city via Penn Station. When I miss dinner at home with the kids because of train delays, I can’t help but curse New Jersey transit out loud.

Given these delays, I’ve given up on trains in and out of Penn Station for the moment. The delays are generally the product of an unpleasant relationship between the regional transit authority and Amtrak, which owns the tunnels. The latter gets priority for its trains and doesn’t do enough maintenance on switches that are endlessly breaking. When I take the PATH trains out of the city to Hoboken and then take NJTransit back, I’m usually better off. The bus is also a safe route although given the recent rains, traffic jams have been more common too (as I write this, I received an alert that the bus lane into the city has stalled). 

Still, if these other routes go down (and smoke in the tunnels seems like a common problem on the PATH trains—deteriorating cables?) and if the subways continue their decline, drawing out my commute within the city, I might question my decision to live in the suburbs and I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one. 

Technology has made commuting easier in the New York City area. Whether its traffic via Sirius radio or google maps in my car or Clever Commute alerts via twitter or e-mail, I have a decent chance of avoiding trouble going in and out of the city if I check ahead.

L. A. was worse. When I taught at SCI_Arc and did research at USC’s Annenberg Center for Communication, I’d be faced by massive traffic jams bringing not only the freeways but also the surface streets to a complete halt. L. A. was worse partly because of its reliance on the automobile but mainly due to preposterously low property taxes that led to chronic underinvestment.

The New York and New Jersey area is a little better off: taxes are high here although investment in infrastructure is still too low. Officials broke ground on a new tunnel under the Hudson River this month. It’ll take eight years to build, but I suppose I’m likely to still be here to enjoy it.

But the delays in and out of the city inspired me to think about the effects of this on the suburbs. It might not be pretty. If infrastructure continues its downward spiral (and money runs out to build that tunnel or delays make it take two decades) one hour commutes become 90 minute commutes, many individuals will move, causing a collapse of property values in the suburbs, particularly the more distant ones. Suburbs near urban cores and urban cores would increase in value. On the other hand, don’t overestimate the damage this will do to the city either. People tied to their homes will hunt for jobs outside the city and the jobs will follow. After all, as executives moved to places like Westchester and Connecticut in the 1960s and 1970s, corporate headquarters followed.

For all the talk about suburbs as "urban parasites," scholars have demonstrated that suburbs and city cores are now inextricably linked. If anything, such infrastructural collapse would lead to further growth in the distant suburbs and in exurbia (I, for one, would think about bugging out to Vermont before everyone else does). It’s very much in the interest of urban and suburban leaders to work together to find solutions.  

 

 

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Infrastructure and Government

Yesterday’s issue of the New York Times Magazine dedicated yesterday’s "Architecture" issue to Infrastructure. At the very least, do check out Tom Vanderbilt’s piece on data centers to read about this emerging form of telecommunications infrastructure.

Why all this attention to infrastructure? If you look at the history of the term, it was used infrequently until the 1980s when it gained currency as a result of America In Ruins: The Decaying Infrastructure, a call for change in policy that received nationwide attention in the press. Alas, it largely fell on deaf ears: politicians interested in downsizing had little interest in more infrastructural spending.

If infrastructure is getting attention because it is in dire need of repair, then that’s largely a good thing. On the other hand, there may be another reason, outlined by Eric Janszen in "The Next Bubble: Priming the Markets for Tomorrow’s Big Crash" over at Harper’s Magazine last year. Janszen persuasively makes the case for how capitalism has been reduced to a bubble economy and how infrastructure is going to be the next bubble. 

Is architecture doomed to another bubble? Will the nearly impossible complexity of constructing new forms of infrastructure keep this bubble from forming? Or is are we going to boldly head toward a WPA 2.0? Time will tell. I’m not placing any bets on the latter. 

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Trouble in the Infrastructural State

 

Remember Christopher Hawthorne’s bizarrely off-kilter review of the Infrastructural City in the LA Times? Hawthorne thought we missed the mark when we suggested that a rabidly self-centered politics— coupled with massive levels of complexity and skyrocketing costs—ended the era of big infrastructure in Los Angeles, leaving in its wake a dysfunctional ecosystem of jury-rigged, often-privatized infrastructures. Instead, Hawthorne took Obama at his word when he thought he would build a new WPA and pined for OMA-designed windmills of the coast of Catalina Island. But that’s the difference between many journalists and academic researchers: the former have to sell stories, the latter have to draw verifiable conclusions.
 
By now its clear that there will be no new WPA-style initiative under Obama. There will be no new Herzog and de Meuron nuclear plants rising in the Mojave, no new Zaha Hadid sewage plants in Malibu. So now its time to take stock of where Los Angeles and California are really heading and the future seems grim.  
 
Take a look at  "The Ungovernable State," a chilling account of California politics in the Economist. California is collapsing due to the very same sort of politics that we identified in the Infrastructural City. Los Angeles, and the infrastructural state of California are exacerbated conditions of neoliberal government, virtually incapacitated by the local interests, individualism, and extremism that rules politics today. 
 
It’s a different end-game from the one that Mike Davis identified in the City of Quartz: things aren’t ending with a racial bang bang but with a political stalemate, but its a bad end nonetheless. What should concern us is that if California is an exacerbated condition, its still a model for neoliberal government: New York, for example, is close behind. This was the real lesson of the Infrastructural City. Only facing up to that reality, not pining for windmills or a new WPA, is going to help.   

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Summing Up the Economic Stimulus Plan

But as signed into law by the President, the plan allocates only $48 billion to highways, rail, and mass transit. That’s a mere 6% of the Plan budget. Architects and the building sector will stand to benefit from more money allocated for improving public housing, veteran’s facilities, and federal agency buildings, but the dreams of an infrastructural stimulus for the profession are over.
Still, the administration continues to call the Plan the largest investment in infrastructure since the since the 1956 creation of the Interstate Highway System. It may be, but it runs a  distant second. The Federal-Aid Highway Act authorized the expenditure of $25 billion between 1957 and 1968. That is $188 billion in today’s dollars. Moreover it was accompanied by a gas tax that fed the system annually, raising $28.4 billion in 2006. Since then, with the drop in gas consumption that accompanied higher prices, revenue has fallen, but the point is clear: the Plan does not deliver a lot of money for infrastructure. 
In contrast, the American Society of Civil Engineers calls for $2.2 trillion of investment in infrastructure. To take a local example, New York is getting $1.25 billion for mass transit, more than any other state, but the Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel is estimated to cost $7 billion and the Second Avenue subway over $17 billion and those are only two planned projects. Instead of a vigorously rebuilt infrastructural future, we are treading water at best.  
Frustration with the Plan even led Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio, Chair of the House Transportation subcommittee on Highways and Transit—once discussed as a possible Secretary of Transportation under Obama—to break with party lines and vote against it. For DeFazio, funding tax cuts to appease Republicans at the expense of infrastructure funding and the total elimination of funds for school construction is unacceptable.  

DeFazio blamed Larry Summers, Obama’s top economic advisor, saying he “hates infrastructure.” But its more than that too. There are structural problems with funding infrastructure today, problems that I suspect contributed to the decision to cut spending.  

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Complexity and Contradiction in the Air

In the new issue of Wired, Andrew Blum has an article entitled Air Repair about how consultants at the Mitre Corporation are rethinking the airspace above New York to alleviate congestion in the nation’s most heavily travelled airspace. It was a great delight to read and this is precisely the kind of approach that new infrastructural initiatives will need to take. Not heavy construction or expensive technological retrofit, but rather applying intelligent thinking applied to making the most of out of conditions, hacking and social engineering what we’ve already got. 

It’d be great if there could be some kind of grand science of optimizing existing infrastructure, but I suspect that there’s not going to be. There’ll be some mathematical models, sure, but more than ever, I think we’re living in an age of tactics, not strategies.    

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infrastructure, the lives of things, and stimulus

Obviously, technological optimism is common in network culture. It’s only natural: we experience technological improvements everyday. A decade ago I spent $1,500 on my first digital camera. Yesterday I gave my six-year-old daughter a digital camera for her birthday. It was smaller and handily outperformed that original camera for less than 1/15th of the cost. Last year the iPhone 3G came out. Now I’ve stopped plotting out the route to an unknown destination before I get on my way. During the last year I finally got rid of my last desktop machine in favor of a laptop which I set to automatically backup my hard drive over the wireless network whenever I am at home. Of course I’m a bit of a geek by inclination and profession, but if you’re reading this blog I’m sure you’re familiar with this rapid pace of change firsthand. 

So it’s normal to extend our technological optimism beyond the home, to the city for example. But there’s another aspect of network culture that balances out technological optimism: non-human systems have drives of their own. A relatively new branch of sociology, actor-network theory (ANT) tries to make sense of this. Here’s a quote from Ole Hanseth and Eric Montiero’s book Understanding Information Infrastructure that sums up the main point:

The term "actor network", the A and N in ANT, is not very illuminating. It is hardly obvious what the term implies. The idea, however, is fairly simple. When going about doing your business — driving your car or writing a document using a word-processor — there are a lot of things that influence how you do it. For instance, when driving a car, you are influenced by traffic regulations, prior driving experience and the car’s manoeuvring abilities, the use of a word-processor is influenced by earlier experience using it, the functionality of the word-processor and so forth. All of these factors are related or connected to how you act. You do not go about doing your business in a total vacuum but rather under the influence of a wide range of surrounding factors. The act you are carrying out and all of these influencing factors should be considered together. This is exactly what the term actor network accomplishes. An actor network, then, is the act linked together with all of its influencing factors (which again are linked), producing a network.

We all know how frustrating technology can be when by design or by accident it prevents us from doing what we wanted to. You lose your iTunes library on your drive and you can’t copy it back off your iPod or re-download it from the store, a faulty fuel sensor puts your car in limp-home mode, your remote control can’t talk to your DVD player and so on. 

By design The Infrastructural City is intended for a general audience—it’s not unacademic, but I also didn’t want to weigh it down too much with theory—and none of my authors were sociologists so I didn’t ask anyone to address ANT. But, one of the book’s chief lessons—even the main lesson—is that infrastructures themselves are actors. The Los Angeles River is not natural anymore, it’s something else entirely. We are traffic, but because we aren’t going to change our behavior, adding more lanes to freeways isn’t going to work.

Understanding human and non-human systems puts The Infrastructural City in a lineage starting with Anton Wagner’s 1935 Los Angeles: Werden, Leben and Gestalt der Zweimillionenstadt in Sudenkalifornien and extending through Banham’s 1971 Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. 36 years elapsed between the first two books and another 37 years passed before our book came out. For both Wagner and Banham, cities were ecologies. Wagner, sponsored by the Nazi government, saw these quite literally: the Anglo-Saxon settlers in Southern California were shaped by the landscape. If Wagner’s sponsorship and eugenic thesis are repulsive, his idea of understanding both the setting and the settlers together was ground-breaking. Building on Wagner, Banham saw the city as composed of discrete landscapes—ecologies—populated by specific clusters of individuals who gave rise to specific kinds of buildings. 

Inexorably, the man-made has become more important. But acts of human volition—building a work of quality architecture, say, or even spearheading an infrastructural initiative—are fading in favor of complex systems, actors that we have shaped but that have evolved "lives" of their own.     

These resulting "actors" have wills that can get in our way at the least opportune time. As a general rule, the more complex the system, the stronger its will. I’ll give away a further clue that I hid in our book: where possible I tried to show the traces of other infrastructural ecologies in the photographs I illustrated the essays with. Can you find the frankenpine in the opening spread of the essay on the L. A. River? As these "ecologies" or as David Fletcher calls them in his essay on the River, "freakologies" interact and network together, they become much harder to control.     

Another thesis of the book is that many of these systems are invisible and an actor doesn’t have to be visible or formed to have a will of its own. Social structures can also be actors. This is most evident today in the glaring absence of infrastructure from the economic stimulus plan. 

There are a lot of false hopes out there about the plan and I’ve been doing what I can to get the truth out, especially since the LA Times review of our book that got the story about the plan so sadly, painfully wrong. For the real story, take a look at this piece from the Boston Globe: Only 5 percent of $819b plan would go toward infrastructure.

A graphic displays the stark reality.

I quote the Globe: 

The chairman of the transportation panel’s subcommittee on highways and transit, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, became so angry about the reduction in transportation spending that he recently accused Obama’s top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, of arguing against such funds because he "hates infrastructure."

The Globe piece observes that the Obama administration hints at future funding for infrastructure, but thus far there it has given fans of infrastructure precious little reason to believe in it.

Instead of agreeing with Peter DeFazio and pinning the blame on one nefarious individual, I’d like to suggest an actor-network-theory reason for the failure.

Political systems have a life of their own. Obama’s administration has to fulfill immediate goals like passing the bill and making it seem like the average American is getting relief. Complex infrastructure projects take decades to build, unless you are in China and after last week we know very well what cutting corners will do. For political reasons Obama doesn’t have decades to wait, so even though he gives the impression of being a strong-willed, inspirational individual who wants to up-end the political machine, he is going for the quick fix.

In other words, we’ve created political ecologies that are going to stand in the way of moves to fund infrastructure.

What to do, then? This is the subject for future posts, but I’ll suggest two things. We need to face up to address the underlying political structures that prevent infrastructural spending, no matter that it is impossible to condense these into a sound bite and we need to use advanced technologies to invent new kinds of infrastructures, augmenting existing conditions. Ubiquitous computing is already here, Mike Kuniavsky suggests. How can we use it to overcome the rising problems of life in the city? 

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Reality Check: Infrastructure Funding for NYC

The Daily News: "New York Gets Big Slice of … Stimulus Package …

What’s known is this: New York is getting more money for Medicaid relief ($12.6 billion), mass transit ($1.3 billion) and home weatherization ($403 million) than any other state. Other categories may well break New York’s way, once funding formulas are set.

"We have come of age," exulted former Mayor Ed Koch, who remembers a time not too long ago when New York’s delegation was routinely steamrolled, mostly by powerful Southern Democrats who saw New York as Sin City.

I have nothing against Medicaid relief, but this is hardly infrastructural spending in the traditional sense. Meanwhile the shovel-ready Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel (adding two new, much-needed tracks under the Hudson River) is estimated to cost over $7 billion to complete while the Second Avenue subway will be over $17 bililon. The Trans-Hudson Express is to be completed by 2017 while the Second Avenue subway will take a few more years. 

Given such lengthy timeframes and the immediacy of the crisis, is it political expediency that is driving Obama’s flight from traditional infrastructure. 

This is but a small window into the way spending is being allocated in the stimulus plan. More here if you missed it. 

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more trouble with infrastructure

This story by Mark Paul at newamerica.net makes an interesting point about investment in infrastructure. Beyond NIMBYism, bureaucratic stalemate, and a flagging s-curve, there is yet another barrier to infrastructural investment and that’s the way its financed. It’s heartbreaking to see my former hometown in L. A. obsess about light rail and subways again precisely at a point when it isn’t coming anytime soon. How we think about infrastructure needs to be completely rethought. More on that soon…developing.

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Obama’s first plan

The House Appropriations Committee introduced its version of the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan of 2009 yesterday. The New York Times reports that this is expected to be in the final stimulus bill. See the Committee Chairman, Wisconsin Representative David Obey’s memo here

The executive summary of the memo below, with my comments in red. An expanded version of the memo can be seen at the above link.  

Overall, my assessment is that the suggestion that this is a WPA-style return to infrastructure is mistaken. On the contrary, what we are seeing is a funding bill aimed at dealing with many important but neglected programs. As far as infrastructure, however, do not expect to see any great changes. As the memo points out, the funding is minor compared to what the government estimates to be needed in a series of key areas.        

The lessons of the Infrastructural City continue: we’ve hit the top of the S-curve for growth in virtually all forms of hard infrastructure. Spending more is going to do little more than keep us afloat. The Obama administration understands that, but can they propose anything in its stead?    

The economy is in a crisis not seen since the Great Depression.

Credit is frozen, consumer purchasing power is in decline, in the last four months the country has lost 2 million jobs and we are expected to lose another 3 to 5 million in the next year.  

Conservative economist Mark Zandi was blunt: "the economy is shutting down."

In the next two weeks, the Congress will be considering the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009. This package is the first crucial step in a concerted effort to create and save 3 to 4 million jobs, jumpstart our economy, and begin the process of transforming it for the 21st century with $275 billion in economic recovery tax cuts and $550 billion in thoughtful and carefully targeted priority investments with unprecedented accountability measures built in. 

The package contains targeted efforts in:

· Clean, Efficient, American Energy

· Transforming our Economy with Science and Technology

· Modernizing Roads, Bridges, Transit and Waterways

· Education for the 21st Century

· Tax Cuts to Make Work Pay and Create Jobs

· Lowering Healthcare Costs

· Helping Workers Hurt by the Economy

· Saving Public Sector Jobs and Protect Vital Services

> Note how infrastructure is downplayed.
Our first clue that infrastructure is playing a back-seat role in this.

The economy is in such trouble that, even with passage of this package, unemployment rates are expected to rise to between eight and nine percent this year. Without this package, we are warned that unemployment could explode to near twelve percent. With passage of this package, we will face a large deficit for years to come. Without it, those deficits will be devastating and we face the risk of economic chaos. Tough choices have been made in this legislation and fiscal discipline will demand more tough choices in years to come. 

Since 2001, as worker productivity went up, 96% of the income growth in this country went to the wealthiest 10% of society. While they were benefitting from record high worker productivity, the remaining 90% of Americans were struggling to sustain their standard of living. They sustained it by borrowing… and borrowing… and borrowing, and when they couldn’t borrow anymore, the bottom fell out. This plan will strengthen the middle class, not just Wall Street CEOs and special interests in Washington.  

Our short term task is to try to prevent the loss of millions of jobs and get our economy moving. The long term task is to make the needed investments that restore the ability of average middle income families to increase their income and build a decent future for their children.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 Unprecedented Accountability: A historic level of transparency, oversight and accountability will help guarantee taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and Americans can see results for their investment.

· In many instances funds are distributed through existing formulas to programs with proven track records and accountability measures already in place.

· How funds are spent, all announcements of contract and grant competitions and awards, and formula grant allocations must be posted on a special website created by the President. Program managers will also be listed so the public knows who to hold accountable.

· Public notification of funding must include a description of the investment funded, the purpose, the total cost and why the activity should be funded with recovery dollars. Governors, mayors or others making funding decisions must personally certify that the investment has been fully vetted and is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. This will also be placed on the recovery website.

· A Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board will be created to review management of recovery dollars and provide early warning of problems. The seven member board includes Inspectors General and Deputy Cabinet secretaries.

· The Government Accountability Office and the Inspectors General are provided additional funding and access for special review of recovery funding.

· Federal and state whistleblowers who report fraud and abuse are protected.

· There are no earmarks in this package.

 This plan targets investments to key areas that will create and preserve good jobs at the same time as it is strengthening the ability of this economy to become more efficient and produce more opportunities for employment.

 Clean, Efficient, American Energy: To put people back to work today and reduce our dependence on foreign oil tomorrow, we will strengthen efforts directed at doubling renewable energy production and renovate public buildings to make them more energy efficient.

· $32 billion to transform the nation’s energy transmission, distribution, and production systems by allowing for a smarter and better grid and focusing investment in renewable technology.

· $16 billion to repair public housing and make key energy efficiency retrofits.

· $6 billion to weatherize modest-income homes.

> This seems reasonable although bailing out homeowners is questionable in my mind. Older private housing is not sexy, the way, say, public housing, condos, or homes are, but is critical for lower and middle income urban (and even suburban) residents. "All utilities included" or at least "heat included" are magic words for renters, allowing them to have a reasonable idea that they will only pay rent during the year. Unfortunately as gas prices have skyrocketed, profit margins for this sort of housing have evaporated. A focus on private apartment buildings would have been helpful here, especially as the myth of the ownership economy is, in part, at root of our problems. 

Note that this "includes $350 million for research into using renewable energy to power weapons systems and military bases."

Transform our Economy with Science and Technology: We need to put scientists to work looking for the next great discovery, creating jobs in cutting-edge-technologies, and making smart investments that will help businesses in every community succeed in a global economy. For every dollar invested in broadband the economy sees a ten-fold return on that investment.

· $10 billion for science facilities, research, and instrumentation.

· $6 billion to expand broadband internet access so businesses in rural and other underserved areas can link up to the global economy.

> So much for a major push to expand broadband. Fiber-to-the-home/office is having as many problems in cities as in rural regions due to the difficulties in clearing easements. But beyond those questions, how will this money be used fairly. Is this a bailout for telecommunications carriers? 

Something got left out of the executive summary. What could that be? How about a mini-bailout for businesses? The DTV conversion coupons do seem important. The FCC has apparently run out of money and the off switch on analog TV is coming next month. 

Creating Small Business Opportunity

· Small Business Credit: $430 million for new direct lending and loan guarantee authorities to make loans more attractive to lenders and free up capital. The number of loans guaranteed under the SBA’s 7(a) business loan program was down 57% in the first quarter of this year compared to last.

· Rural Business-Cooperative Service: $100 million for rural business grants and loans to guarantee $2 billion in loans for rural businesses at a time of unprecedented demand due to the credit crunch. Private sector lenders are increasingly turning to this program to help businesses get access to capital.

· Industrial Technology Services: $100 million, including $70 million for the Technology Innovation Program to accelerate research in potentially revolutionary technologies with high job growth potential, and $30 million for the Manufacturing Extension Partnerships to help small and mid-size manufacturers compete globally by providing them with access to technology.

· Economic Development Assistance: $250 million to address long-term economic distress in urban industrial cores and rural areas distributed based on need and ability to create jobs and attract private investment. EDA leverages $10 in private investments for $1 in federal funds.

DTV Conversion Coupons: $650 million to continue the coupon program to enable American households to convert from analog television transmission to digital transmission. 

 Modernize Roads, Bridges, Transit and Waterways: To build a 21st century economy, we must engage contractors across the nation to create jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads, and bridges, modernize public buildings, and put people to work cleaning our air, water and land.

· $30 billion for highway construction;

· $31 billion to modernize federal and other public infrastructure with investments that lead to long term energy cost savings;

· $19 billion for clean water, flood control, and environmental restoration investments;

· $10 billion for transit and rail to reduce traffic congestion and gas consumption.

> Here is the meat of the proposals for infrastructure…and it’s pretty lean. $30 billion is less than one year’s expenditure on highways. $10 billion for transit and rail isn’t that much when just one crucial project, the Trans-Hudson Tunnel, is slated to cost $9 billion.

Reading the expanded version of the memo, things start to look positively grim.  

· Upgrades and Repair: $2 billion to modernize existing transit systems, including renovations to stations, security systems, computers, equipment, structures, signals, and communications. Funds will be distributed through the existing formula. The repair backlog is nearly $50 billion. 

 · Amtrak and Intercity Passenger Rail Construction Grants: $1.1 billion to improve the speed and capacity of intercity passenger rail service. The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General estimates the North East Corridor alone has a backlog of over $10 billion.

 · Airport Improvement Grants: $3 billion for airport improvement projects that will improve safety and reduce congestion. An estimated $41 billion in eligible airport infrastructure projects are needed between 2007-2011.

There’s also a bit of money under this heading in the expanded version for Defense although since it’s largely for medical construction which is horribly underfunded, I won’t complain. The last President did what he could NOT to support the troops, or at least the ones who were injured…

Also, I won’t complain about $50 million for the NEA or needed work at the National Park Service. Other numbers again point to the difference between this bill and what is really needed: 

 · Clean Water State Revolving Fund: $6 billion for loans to help communities upgrade wastewater treatment systems. EPA estimates a $388 billion funding gap. The Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators found that 26 states have $10 billion in approved water projects.

· Drinking Water State Revolving Fund: $2 billion for loans for drinking water infrastructure. EPA estimates there is a $274 billion funding gap. The National Governors Association reported that there are $6 billion in ready-to-go projects, which could quickly be obligated.

Education for the 21st Century: To enable more children to learn in 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries to help our kids compete with any worker in the world, this package provides:

· $41 billion to local school districts through Title I ($13 billion), IDEA ($13 billion), a new School Modernization and Repair Program ($14 billion), and the Education Technology program ($1 billion).

· $79 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cutbacks to key services, including $39 billion to local school districts and public colleges and universities distributed through existing state and federal formulas, $15 billion to states as bonus grants as a reward for meeting key performance measures, and $25 billion to states for other high priority needs such as public safety and other critical services, which may include education.

· $15.6 billion to increase the Pell grant by $500.

· $6 billion for higher education modernization.

> I can’t argue here. Education is in dire straits. My only question is how we could rethink education today. It’s not teacher’s salaries that have gone sky high, it’s administrative expenditures. How can we cut those?

 Tax Cuts to Make Work Pay and Create Jobs: We will provide direct tax relief to 95 percent of American workers, and spur investment and job growth for American Businesses. [marked up by the Ways and Means Committee]

> Throwing bread to Republicans. Didn’t I say something about knowing that Obama was in trouble if he gave kickbacks to taxpayers? That didn’t take long.  

Lower Healthcare Costs: To save not only jobs, but money and lives, we will update and computerize our healthcare system to cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help reduce healthcare costs by billions of dollars each year.

· $20 billion for health information technology to prevent medical mistakes, provide better care to patients and introduce cost-saving efficiencies.

· $4.1 billion to provide for preventative care and to evaluate the most effective healthcare treatments.

> I suppose this is necessary, but the numbers seem outrageous. Didn’t Google propose to do this for free? This sounds more like a busy work project than anything else.

Help Workers Hurt by the Economy: High unemployment and rising costs have outpaced Americans’ paychecks. We will help workers train and find jobs, and help struggling families make ends meet.

· $43 billion for increased unemployment benefits and job training.

· $39 billion to support those who lose their jobs by helping them to pay the cost of keeping their employer provided healthcare under COBRA and providing short-term options to be covered by Medicaid.

· $20 billion to increase the food stamp benefit by over 13% in order to help defray rising food costs.

> Ok, this is reasonable. But maybe we should think about the definition of unemployment? Under Reagan the government re-jigged the unemployment rate to make it look better. We really have something like 16% unemployment, or more. To be fair, under Clinton the government re-jigged the inflation rate. We really have a 6-9% rate of inflation, not 2.79%. See here.   

Save Public Sector Jobs and Protect Vital Services: We will provide relief to states, so they can continue to employ teachers, firefighters and police officers and provide vital services without having to unnecessarily raise middle class taxes.

· $87 billion for a temporary increase in the Medicaid matching rate.

· $4 billion for state and local law enforcement funding.

 

Continue reading “Obama’s first plan”